We hear the word PROTEIN all the time and most of us know it’s important in our diet. I wanted to clarify just how important it is and HELP YOU figure out just how much you need and what are some of the best sources to include in your diet.
First of all, WHAT IS PROTEIN?
What Is Protein?
Protein is found throughout the body—in muscle, bone, skin, hair, and virtually every other body part or tissue. It makes up the enzymes that power many chemical reactions and the hemoglobin that carries oxygen in your blood. At least 10,000 different proteins make you what you are and keep you that way.
Twenty or so basic building blocks, called amino acids, provide the raw material for all proteins. Following genetic instructions, the body strings together amino acids. Some genes call for short chains of amino acids, others are blueprints for long chains that fold, origami-like, into intricate, three-dimensional structures.
Because the body doesn’t store amino acids, as it does fats or carbohydrates, it needs a daily supply of amino acids to make new protein
Think of protein as a long chain of amino acids tied together like building blocks. These amino acids fall into 2 categories:
1) Essential Amino Acids - there are 8 of these and the body DOES NOT produce these. They must come from our diet.
2) Non-Essential Amino Acids – there are 12 and the body produces these
Essential amino acids
Non-essential amino acids
What is the exact role of protein in our body?
Protein is required by the body for the growth, maintenance and repair of all cells.
Protein is a major component of all muscles, tissues and organs and is vital for practically every process that occurs within the body such as metabolism, digestion and the transportation of nutrients and oxygen in the blood.
It is also necessary for the production of antibodies, which fight against infection and illness, and is the main nutrient that keeps our hair shiny and healthy, our nails strong, our skin fresh and glowing and our bones strong and healthy.
Is too much protein bad for you?
Although the body needs a certain amount of protein, too much can be harmful for a person’s health.
There is a significant risk of high cholesterol, due to the high amount of saturated fats in certain foods, which could in turn lead to heart disease and stroke.
Too much protein also puts a strain on the liver and kidneys. Foods that contain protein have high levels of nitrogen, which are harmful to the body and must be eliminated. The role of the kidneys is to filter out waste products and therefore an excess of protein will force the kidneys to work harder to remove the nitrogen waste from the body. This stress could ultimately lead to kidney disorders or damage to the body’s filtering capacities.
Due to the inability of the body to store excess protein, any surplus protein that is consumed is then converted into glucose in the liver and either used up as energy or stored as fat.
Some protein-rich foods are high in nucleic acids, which when broken down, are converted into uric acid. Consequently, too much uric acid in the blood can lead to gout, an extremely uncomfortable condition that causes a person’s joints to become inflamed, tender and agonizingly painful to move.
Finally, too much protein in the diet could also lead to osteoporosis (thinning of the bones), as an excess of protein promotes the loss of calcium in the bones through urine.
Can too little protein affect our health?
Just as too much protein is detrimental to our health, too little protein can also affect the body negatively.
Many foods containing protein are also good sources of iron amongst other minerals and vitamins. A lack of iron can result in tiredness and fatigue, leaving the body weak and with little energy.
Protein in the body is lost daily and therefore must be replenished daily through the diet. Too little protein can cause skin problems and generally give us an unhealthy and tired appearance.
In children, who need a lot of protein to help them grow and develop, not enough protein can lead to a stunted growth and even poor mental development.